Monday, April 30, 2007

media update: April

Y helo thar.

I neglected to tell you about Administrative Assistant's Day, didn't I? Well, perhaps because there wasn't much to report. My fellow peons and I gathered in the break room, where our bosses served us a mediocre breakfast and one of them read a poem out loud that was so saccharine, so unicorns pooping rainbows, that it made Hallmark sound like Anne Sexton.

But we all got a gift! Wanna guess what it was? No, silly, it wasn't a bonus or a raise so we could all try to live in Southern California without eating recalled pet food! It was ONE PAID HOUR OFF! Aren't you jealous?

...yeah, didn't think so.


Anyway, on to the media update. Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. The Perfect Royal Mistress* by Diane Haeger: A historical novel based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who began as an orange seller at the theater, became a celebrated comic actress, and wound up as the mistress of King Charles II. Well-written, with an indelible heroine to root for.

2. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig: A historical romance/spy novel hybrid that, aside from a rather nice sex scene near the end, was humdrum.

3. A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney: Yet another historical novel! In this one, Charlotte, the protagonist, spots her husband about to kiss another woman, and she flees to a hotel where the male employees offer, shall we say, additional services. You would think a book about a brothel would have at least one or two really hot sex scenes; in this case, you would be wrong.

4. Helpless* by Barbara Gowdy: A man obsessed with a beautiful little girl kidnaps her during the confusion of a neighborhood blackout, and his girlfriend is torn between keeping his secret and turning him in. That description makes it sound like a thriller, which it isn't; rather, it's a searing look at how love, or what we mistake as love, forces us to do crazy things. I had a few quibbles with the ending, but overall, this is so freakin' good.

5. Parallel Play by Thomas Rayfiel: A young woman finds herself overwhelmed by motherhood; she feels emotionally unattached to her baby daughter, and she can't make small talk with the other mothers at the Tot Lot. When a former boyfriend makes an unexpected reapparance in her life, she has to figure out her priorities. It started off really good, but my attention was wavering near the end. Still, it has its moments, and I found the prickly narrator refreshing.

6. Grotesque* by Natsuo Kirino: A woman reflects on the murders of her despised younger sister and a former classmate, both prostitutes. A dark but fascinating look at the other side of Japanese society.

7. Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman: Alex Delaware investigates when a former patient tells him about her adoptive mother's deathbed confession. Kellerman's books are usually either really good or really bad; this one is just meh. Needed more Milo.

8. Fly Me to the Moon* by Alyson Noel: If you're in the mood for brain candy, you could do far worse than this funny, breezy read about a flight attendant who tries to heal her broken heart by traveling to exotic places and indulging in romantic flings.

9. Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner: In the 1960's, an American woman teaching in Japan inherits a chest full of plum wine from her mentor. She finds letters wrapped around the bottles, and when she hires a man to help her translate, she learns about the devastation of Hiroshima. A decent way to kill a couple of hours.


1. Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl: The author reminisces about the beginning of her career as a food critic and how it intertwined with her personal successes and sorrows.

2. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl: Even though I didn't give the previous book a star, I liked it well enough to check her first book out too. This one covers her early days of learning to appreciate food.

3. Hyper-Chondriac* by Brian Frazer: The author chronicles his lifelong problems with rage and illness, and his attempts to deal with them using everything from Zoloft to ayurvedic medicine. That description doesn't make this sound like a chucklefest, but it's actually very funny.

4. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max: You know, it's not like I didn't know what I was getting into, since the first line on the back of the book is "My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole." But my god, 300 pages about the same kind of drunken, horny, inconsiderate prick that I spent my entire college career avoiding was 295 pages too many. I hope he gets a penicillin-resistant strain of syphilis and his dick falls off.

5. Jesus Land* by Julia Scheeres: This is one of those books that's so fucking good you resent anything that takes away from your time with it. The author grew up in Indiana in the 1980's, and to say the least, she didn't have a good adolescence; she and her adoptive brothers, both black, were treated like shit at school, and her parents were religious people who alternated between cold indifference and outright abuse. Eventually, they sent her and her youngest brother, David, to a Christian "tough love" camp in the Dominican Republic. Beautifully written, completely devoid of self-pity, and utterly essential for anyone who enjoys memoirs or, for that matter, reading in general.

6. The End of the World As We Know It* by Robert Goolrick: A haunting, lyrical, and deeply sad memoir about the author's dysfunctional family and how he suffered at their hands. It took my breath away.


1. Bittersweet Cafe* by Akira Kanbe

2. Twin's Labyrinth by Akira Norikasu

3. Under Grand Hotel* vol. 3 by Sadahiro Mika: I love happy endings...and this volume had both kinds!

4. Cat Street* vol. 3 by Kamio Yoko


1. Flushed Away: In London, a pet rat is flushed down the toilet, and he discovers a secret world in the sewers. The cast and animation are top notch, but for some reason it just left me flat.

2. Grindhouse*: Now THIS is entertainment! Planet Terror is an ultra-gory zombie flick starring Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer who winds up with a machine gun for a leg. Death Proof isn't nearly as good, and it takes forever to get going, but once it does, it's a wild car chase/women's revenge hybrid. And in between the two movies, there are fake trailers spoofing Nazi exploitation films, giallo, a Mexican revenge thriller, and best of all, an incredibly sick and twisted homage to 80's holiday-themed slasher flicks called Thanksgiving. Grimy, nasty fun.

3. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The opening, a spoof of those old ads trying to get you to visit the concession stand, is a howler; the rest was disappointing to say the least.

4. Fast Food Nation: I wasn't sure how they were going to do an adaptation of the book without making it into a documentary, but they did a surprisingly good job. The book is about the horrors of fast food, including its negative impact on health and the environment, but this focused mainly on how the plants exploit illegal immigrants. Well done, but incredibly disturbing, especially because they show real animals being slaughtered and processed.

5. Curse of the Golden Flower*: This sweeping epic, set during the Chinese Tang dynasty, is basically just a classy soap opera spiced up with martial arts, but I had to give it a star because the costumes and sets are so unbelievably gorgeous.

6. The Pursuit of Happyness: Will Smith stars as a man who struggles to raise his young son while serving as an intern for a brokerage firm. It's good, albeit a bit "Lifetime movie of the week".

7. Searching for Bobby Fischer: A young chess prodigy is pushed to be a champion by his father. Excellent performances, especially from the kid.

8. Tears of the Black Tiger: Three words for you: pad Thai western. I can’t say I liked it all that much, but it sure was different.


1. "Grindhouse (Main Theme)" by Robert Rodriguez: This is the music that plays while Rose McGowan is dancing during the opening titles, and it's just really sexy and dirty-sounding.

2. "I Like Your Booty (But I'm Not Gay)" by Insane-O-Flex: Okay, so Movie #3 blew, but I liked this song.

3. "Chick Habit" by April March

4. "Heart-Shaped Glasses" by Marilyn Manson

5. "Just You Wait" by The Paybacks

6. "Shadowplay" by The Killers

7. "Cat Brain Land" by Melt-Banana: This bizarre song by a Japanese (of course) noise band makes my head spin in the most delightful way.

8. "Que Sera Sera": No, not the Doris Day song; this is the song from Katamari Damacy with the classic "I wanna wad you up into my life" lyrics.


This is an insanely addictive game that tests your skills in everything from logic to math. Some of the games seem really easy at first, but they quickly become more challenging as you go along. There's also a fun test mode which "weighs" your brain; my highest score was 1590 grams, or a B+. Needless to say, I didn't do so well on the math puzzles, but it turns out I'm a dab hand at memorization!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Last month, I was at Borders, making a beeline for the lone unoccupied table in the café. I had a chai latte and an enormous stack of intellectually unchallenging magazines, which is pretty much my definition of a perfect evening’s entertainment.

Well, without involving a lot of money and/or nudity, that is.

Anyway, the table was sticky and someone had been kind enough to leave straw wrappers and lapflaps* all over the place, but as previously mentioned, every other table was taken. Fuming, I picked up the detritus to dispose of it, and as I was about to dump it in the trash can, I noticed a fluorescent green brochure sticking out of the lapflaps. Curious, I took it back to the table with me, and it turned out to be a brochure for a local dance studio that offered yoga, tai chi, and belly dancing lessons.

Belly dancing!

The words conjured up thoughts of odalisques in filmy blue pants and bras, their kohl-rimmed eyes smoldering above their veils…sipping mint tea…the smell of sandalwood incense in the air.

I read the description. In addition to advanced classes, they had a drop-in class. “This class is suitable for beginners, or for more advanced students who wish to refine their basic techniques.”

Okay, sounded good, and it wasn’t too pricey. I put the card in my purse and vowed to look into it once I got back from my Jersey vacation.

So last night, when I got home from work, I shucked off the trappings of my professional life and stood in front of my closet, trying to figure out what to wear to a belly dancing class. Lacking finger cymbals or harem pants, I settled on a loose black Levi’s shirt embellished with a rhinestone skull and black sweatpants.

When I got to the studio, I was greeted by a tiny, impossibly cute woman who looked like a miniature version of Maggie Gyllenhaal. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before,” she said.

“No, this is my first time.”

“Well, welcome! We’ll be starting soon. Do you have any dance experience?”

“When I was younger, I took jazz and ballet classes, but nothing in the last two decades, I’m afraid.”

“That’s no problem!” Maggie chirped. “This is aimed at beginning students, so it’s not too challenging. You’ll still probably work up a sweat, though. And it’s so much fun!”

“It sounds like it,” I said. “By the way, what’s the dress code?”

“Oh, you know, whatever you feel comfortable in.” Then she frowned at my chest and said, “Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend wearing that particular shirt again.”

“Uh, why’s that?”

“The skull. Bad energy.”

Jesus, now there’s a proverbial California moment for you.

We walked into the studio, and she suggested that I do some stretches to warm up. Eventually, a few other women showed up, and then it was time for the lesson.

“Okay!” Maggie said. “I see a few new faces in here, which is great! Let’s begin!”

It started off easily enough…a few hand gestures here, a hip shake there. I watched myself in the mirror, and I felt, even!

This is so much fun! I thought, wiggling my ass happily.

And then it got ugly.

The music picked up, the steps got more complicated, and I stared in shock at the other women. These weren’t no fucking beginners; they were raised in souks! I stumbled around like Frankenstein on benzedrine and tried desperately not to bang into anyone else. I don’t know if anyone else is watching Dancing with the Stars (and yes, dammit, I admit that I’ve been watching it because I have a thing for Apolo Ono), but imagine Clyde Drexler with much paler skin and much bigger tits, and you’ve got an idea of what I looked like. I got complimented by Maggie on my “seaweed arms”, but I think she was just being nice.

I’m afraid that part-time gig at the local curry joint may have to wait.

*I’m going to seriously date myself with this reference, but whatever. Back in the 80’s, HBO had a show called “Not Necessarily the News”. One of the segments was called Sniglets, and it was dedicated to coming up with words for things that needed them. “Lapflaps” was what they called magazine subscription cards, and that’s what I’ve called them ever since.

Monday, April 09, 2007

how I spent my Passover vacation

Well, I’m back from the chilly East Coast. I ate a lot, I slept a lot, and overall, it was a pretty good vacation.


* As previously mentioned, I seriously got my feed on. Madre is a phenomenal cook, and she makes the best cheesecake I’ve ever had, along with fantastic flapjacks, amazing roast chicken, and chocolate cupcakes filled with cream cheese that made my eyes roll back in my head. Aside from our day at Six Flags, we only ate out once, at a little place called Elements of Asia that served Japanese, Chinese, and Thai cuisine. I had teriyaki chicken and tempura, as well as two glasses of the exquisite wine Padre had brought along, and Padre and I shared an order of Thai mango sticky rice for dessert. The mango tasted like lip gloss, but the sticky rice was flavored with cinnamon and coconut milk and was quite happymaking.

* After four Seders in two years, I think I may actually have the Haggadah memorized.

* Took several long walks.

* We visited a museum in Princeton that had a wonderful Pop Art exhibit.

* To my delight, I managed to track down a Good Humor Toasted Almond ice cream bar. I’ve only had this delicacy twice, both times in Las Vegas, and have never seen it again. It’s almond ice cream covered with slivered almonds and little candy bits. Apparently not a big seller in Jersey, since it had obviously been in the freezer for a while, but it was still delicious and, if it had been fresh, would have gotten a 9 on my Taste-O-Meter. As it was, it still got an 8.

* G’s parents acquired an enormous, Chihuly-esque blown glass sculpture which hung in the stairwell and swayed ominously in even the slightest breeze. It looked like a snarl of animal horns and intestines, and when Madre asked me what I thought, I said honestly, “That is truly something.” (I took a picture, but Photobucket is being churlish, so I’ll try to upload it later.)

* Not a minor detail, but it doesn’t fit anywhere else: my brother had surgery on Friday to correct his breathing problems, so I called home to see how it went. He was in good spirits and said the pain was so minor he didn’t even need to take his prescription painkillers, opting instead for Tylenol.

* On the flight home, I shocked G by buying a fruit and cheese plate and eating everything but the strawberry and the cubes of pepperjack cheese. As he stared at me in awe, I smirked and said, “I like to keep you guessing.”


Madre, Padre, J, and A wanted to spend Wednesday in search of cultural refinement, so G and I took the kids to Six Flags in Jackson. Upon arriving, we noticed something rather unusual:

Orthodox Jews.

I’m not just talking about a few Jewish people; I’m talking a good 60 to 70% of the crowd. The males wore yarmulkes and, in a few instances, those long side curls; the females wore ankle-length skirts. G (who, remember, was raised Jewish and can therefore get away with this) said, “Must be half-off today, or they wouldn’t be here.”

Unfortunately, many of the rides were closed due to wind, and we waited for over an hour at the Batman ride only to have it literally close as soon as we got to the front of the line. There were mascots roaming around the park, but you couldn’t use your own camera to take a picture of or with them; there was an official park photographer accompanying them, ready to sell you a shot. We ate at the Papa John’s kiosk for both lunch and dinner, because we’d gotten free coupons for buying our tickets online, but if we’d had to pay for those meals, not including drinks, it would have cost $75, which was an abomination even by theme park prices. We briefly entertained the idea of scalping our extra coupons so we could buy a Flash Pass (yes, they actually had the gall to charge an extra $30 for a service Disney provides for free), but decided against it.

So yeah, Six Flags was trashy and freezing and mercenary, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves. The Spongebob Squarepants 3D ride was surprisingly fun, and the Superman ride was scary as hell; if it had lasted just a minute longer, I would have added my lunch to the vomit that pollocked the sidewalk at the end of the ride. All in all, though, I’d recommend against it…or at least going during the summer.